When we were children and complained about the cold, our mothers often told us that the easiest way to stay warm in winter was to wear a hat and make sure our feet were warm. Since wearing a hat indoors wasn’t encouraged, (because we “wouldn’t feel the benefit when we went outdoors”) we quickly learned the importance of having something warm and fluffy on our feet in winter.
Sheepskin slippers and boots are the obvious choices to keep toes toasty warm at home. And as it turns out, people across the globe have been utilising this miracle material for centuries in outdoor use, too.
Did you know that archaeologists found a mummy in China dating from 500BC that was wearing a pair of sheepskin boots? This is considered to be the oldest known use of sheepskin being used to keep feet warm. It certainly predates Plato’s description of how people would wrap their feet in warm felt and sheepskin during hard winters.
Sheepskin boots have also historically been worn by the people of Tibet, Inuit people of the polar region, and Russian peasants. For Tibetans the styles would vary depending on who was wearing them; for example, female dancers would dye their footwear in many colours, while Tibetan horsemen would wear large boots with heavy sheepskin coats and trousers to keep them warm. The Inuit would oil their sheepskins in order to make them waterproof, while the Russians would line high boots with sheepskin to keep their feet warm.
All of these groups realised that sheepskin footwear was great for keeping them warm and cosy, while still feeling comfortable. And this tradition continued into the twentieth century. In the early days of both motoring and aviation, those at the helm of the vehicle found that they needed additional warmth. Motorcars were originally open-topped, while the earliest aeroplanes were often unpressurised and inadequately heated. Both motorists and aviators realised that they needed to keep warm during travel and their thoughts turned immediately to sheepskin. During World War I, thigh-high sheepskin boots became popular with members of the Royal Flying Corps (the precursor to the RAF) and were affectionately known as “fug boots”.
Sheepskin boots and footwear also have a place in the history of extreme sports. When Sir Edmund Hillary and his team climbed Mount Everest in 1953, they used sheepskin boots to warm their feet while resting, helping to conserve their energy for the arduous task and ensure their success. In recent years, sheepskin footwear became popular with surfers who found that this was the perfect way to warm their feet after a hard session surfing in winter seas.
Sheepskin footwear has a long and proud tradition of keeping people warm and while the kind of sheepskin used has varied, generation upon generation are still discovering its benefits. With sheepskin footwear now made from merino, they are also discovering just how soft and comfy as well as insulating this historic material can be.
It just proves that our mums were repeating what history has proved all along; keep your feet warm and you won’t notice the cold.